Many Florida personal injury lawyers represent clients on a “contingency fee” basis. Under this framework, an attorney will get paid by deducting a portion of a final, personal injury or wrongful death settlement or from a damages award. Recently, a Florida injury plaintiff moved to assess attorneys fees based upon a settlement proposal. The trial court denied the motion, reasoning that the settlement proposal was ambiguous.
The case stems from injuries the plaintiff suffered while living as a tenant on the defendant’s property. Before litigation, the plaintiff served the defendant with a settlement proposal according to Florida Statutes § 768.79 and Florida Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 1.442. The defendants did not accept the proposal, but a jury found it in favor of the plaintiff. The plaintiff moved for attorneys fees because the judgment exceeded the settlement proposal by more than twenty-five percent.
The defendants argued that the proposal included ambiguous and vague language and was beyond the scope of the claims. Florida courts strictly construe the statute and rule because the common law rule is that each party should pay its fees. Furthermore, settlements proposals must be “sufficiently clear” to allow the offeree to make an informed decision. The purpose of the rule is to conserve judicial resources and reduce litigation costs by encouraging settlement negotiations.
In this case, the appeals court found that there was no ambiguity. The settlement proposal clearly stated the claims that required settling and included a provision that it was “made to resolve any and all claims by the plaintiff against the defendant.” The trial court found the proposal ambiguous because it believed that future landlord and tenant claims between the parties could be included. However, the appeals court evaluated the proposal as a whole and found that the terms referred to issues involving the underlying action and not future claims. As such, because there were no other pending claims between the plaintiff and defendant, the condition of the settlement was just the entry and satisfaction of the final judgment. Therefore, the appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling denying the plaintiff’s entitlement to attorneys’ fees. The court ultimately remanded the case for the lower court to determine the fee.
Have You Suffered Injuries Because of Another’s Negligence?
If you or someone you know has been hurt or died because of another negligence, contact the Florida personal injury lawyers at Friedman, Rodman Frank & Estrada, P.A. The South Florida personal injury lawyers at our office have represented accident victims since 1976. Our office provides clients with excellent representation throughout all stages of their claims, including settlement negotiations, mediation, litigation, and appeals. We handle lawsuits involving Florida motor vehicle accidents, construction accidents, admiralty law, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, premises liability, dangerous and defective products, AirBnB Accidents, and assaults. We have secured significant amounts of compensation for our Florida clients. Contact our office at 877-448-8585 to schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced attorney on our legal team. Calling is free, and we will not bill you unless and until we can recover compensation on your behalf.